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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

ISS Astronauts Start Repair Spacewalk Soon

International Space Station Commander Sunita Williams will be spacewalking
NASA astronaut and International Space Station Commander Sunita Williams and Japanese spaceflyer Akihiko Hoshide are slated to start the spacewalk — also known as an extra-vehicular activity, or EVA — Thursday at 8:15 a.m. EDT. They're expected to stay outside for about 6 1/2 hours, NASA officials said. You can watch live coverage of the spacewalk here on NASA-TV, beginning at 7:15 a.m. EDT.  

The space station is equipped with eight huge solar arrays with each having its own associated power system and ammonia is used to cool down this gear. The task of the spacewalk is to detect the source of an ammonia leak, which can put out of order one of the arrays if not isolated and repaired.
Williams will be expanding her record for having the longest time in space as a female spacewalking astronaut. She currently has 44 hours of spacewalk time and is expected to have over 50 by the end of her Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 EVA.

Happy Halloween from NASA

Russian Cargo Ship Docking with ISS

The ISS Progress 49 M-17M cargo vehicle launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:41 a.m. EDT Wednesday, heading for a docking to International Space Station at 9:40 a.m.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Astrobiology & the Search for Alien Life

Hank talks about astrobiology - the study of and search for life in the universe off Earth. Right now, the field has more questions than answers, but all they all seek to answer that one fundamental query: are we alone in the universe?

New Mexico Governor Advances Re-Write of Spaceflight 'Informed Consent' State Law

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez says expanding the informed consent law is important to keep New Mexico competitive with other states, specifically: Virginia, Florida, Texas, California and Colorado.
“We need to make sure that legislator understand how important it is to pass laws that don’t restrict other tenants from coming to Spaceport America,” the Governor Martinez explained to KRWG 22 News.

Current New Mexico state law only protects primary operators - like Virgin Galactic - but not suppliers of equipment.  New Mexico State Senator Mary Kay Papen says the expanded informed consent law is written and ready for discussion in the next legislative session in January 2013.

Meanwhile, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will be going to work for a California spaceport to help push lawmakers there for an expanded “informed consent” law protecting manufacturers and suppliers of private spacecraft from most civil lawsuits, notes the ABJournal.  The Mojave Air and Space Port CEO/General Manager Stu Witt, however, notes that the Richardson contract is now complete.

Hurricane Sandy From Above

Hurricane Sandy has loomed large over the eastern United States from North Carolina into Canada bringing high winds, rain, advacing tides, and lots of Appalachian Mountain snow! Here is the view from above.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Soyuz-U /Progress 49-P Cargo Spacecraft Readied @Baikonur in Kazakhstan

The ISS Progress 49P resupply ship, loaded with 2.5 tons of food, fuel and supplies for the crew aboard the station, is scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:41 a.m. EDT (1:41 p.m. Kazakhstan time). NASA TV coverage of the launch begins at 3:15 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012.
A few hours later, NASA TV coverage will resume at 9 a.m. EDT for the docking of the Progress to the space station's Zvezda Service Module at 9:40 a.m.

The unmanned Progress resupply capsule set to launch on Halloween will arrive at the orbiting outpost the same day — a "trick" only attempted to the ISS one time before. Usually, the cargo and other visiting vehicles take two to three days to get to the station. That opens the chance of a Halloween day "treat" delivery, notes's Robert Z. Pearlman
Meanwhile, at the Baikonur launch site, preparations continue for the launch of ISS Soyuz-U, Progress 49P (Progress M-17M) cargo vehicle under the International Space Station. The Soyuz-U launch vehicle was rolled out from the integration building to the launch pad for launch October 29, 2012. Video of the rollout is above.

Zombie Fomalhaut b: Hubble Gotchu!

A second look at data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is reanimating the claim that the nearby star Fomalhaut hosts a massive exoplanet. The study suggests that the planet, named Fomalhaut b, is a rare and possibly unique object that is completely shrouded by dust.

In November 2008, Hubble astronomers announced the exoplanet, named Fomalhaut b, as the first one ever directly imaged in visible light around another star. The object was imaged just inside a vast ring of debris surrounding but offset from the host star. The planet's location and mass -- about three times Jupiter's -- seemed just right for its gravity to explain the ring's appearance.

Recent studies have claimed that this planetary interpretation is incorrect. Based on the object's apparent motion and the lack of an infrared detection by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, they argue that the object is a short-lived dust cloud unrelated to any planet.

A new analysis, however, brings the planet conclusion back to life. Hubble Gotchu!

Severe Weather Stops Work @Wallops Island

Antares 1st stage booster sits on the launch pad at Wallops Island. Credit AP
HURRICANE SANDY ALERT! - The test article Antares rocket sits on the launch pad at Wallops Island, Virginia facing what will be  possible gusts of wind of up to 70 mph and downpour of rain ranging from 5" to 10" inches along the Delmarva Peninsula Monday, October 29, 2012. Live Tweets from the 'space island.'

The Eastern Shore severe weather will inevitably result in work delays for the next 72-hours or more from the flooding and power outages for many of the hundreds employed by NASA Wallops Flight Facility and Orbital Sciences Corporation.  Orbital is  preparing the Antares-Cygnus missions, the second commercial launch vehicle to carry cargo to the International Space Station.
In many ways, it is like a repeat drill but this time with rocket boosters set to fly to the International Space Station next year in the Horizontal Integration Facility a few hundred feet from the shoreline and a first stage booster strapped to a new launch pad within 100' of the raging water.

The launch pad, liquid fuel facilities, and other hardware facilities were designed to withstand severe ocean side saltwater blasts, potential flooding and high winds. Nonetheless, there is little comfort in knowing that the best work is about to be tested by nature's reality. Moreover, the safety of the talented people, and their families, associated with the facility and programs are of primary concern.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Dragon CRS-1 Splashes Down on Earth

 Dragon cargo capsule splashed down in Pacific Ocean. Credit: SpaceX
The SpaceX Dragon CRS-1 cargo craft that delivered about a half-ton of supplies and hardware to the International Space Station has now returned to Earth with more than 13-hundred pounds of scientific and other materials. Dragon splashed down (video) in the Pacific Oct. 28, 2012. SpaceX Twitter feed.
“This historic mission signifies the restoration of America’s ability to deliver and return critical space station cargo,” said SpaceX CEO and Chief Technical Officer Elon Musk. “The reliability of SpaceX’s technology and the strength of our partnership with NASA provide a strong foundation for future missions and achievements to come.”
The American Dragon spacecraft is the only one now capable of returning cargo from the space station among those now providing cargo services, e.g. Russia's Progress, Europe's ATV, and Japan's HTV vessels.

The internationally-sourced commercial Cygnus cargo spacecraft, operated by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation, may experiment with NASA Langley Research Center "space brakes" - enabling it to return cargo to Earth perhaps in 2015.  But in the short-term, it too will burn-up on re-entry when it starts to fly cargo to the station early next year.

2012 DA14 on closest fly by an asteroid of its size in history of tracking NEOs

Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) 2012 DA14, estimated diameter of about 45 meters and an estimated mass of about 130,000 metric tons, will speed by at a distance placing it between Earth and closer than man-made telecommunications satellites in geosynchronous orbit. However, the asteroid will not be visible to the naked eye.
The asteroid will pass by satellites in geostationary orbit about 35,800 kilometers (22,245 miles) above the equator, (providing a remote possibility putting a communications satellite at risk of being smashed*). [A reader has advised that the asteroid "won't cross geosynchronous orbit as its orbit is highly inclined." See comment below.]
The asteroid, the size of a city block, will squeeze by Earth's atmosphere and the geostationary satellites orbiting the planet. It will be the closest fly by an asteroid of its size in modern history of tracking asteroids. Experts say there is no chance the asteroid will hit Earth - this time. But with more than 4,700 asteroids NASA has identified as potential threats to Earth, some as big as 16 football fields, these objects are getting a lot of attention (NBC News video).
If asteroid 2012 DA14 were to hit Earth, the impact would release the rock's energy of about 2.4 megatons.  More from Red Orbit, The Watchers, Big Think, Discover Magzine, and EarthSky.

Sheshan Radio Telescope Started in China

The largest radio telescope in Asia, and third largest in the world,  was started today, Sunday, October 28, 2012 at the foot of Sheshan Mountain in Shanghai, China. The newly-built 65 meter diameter radio telescope can pick up eight different frequency bands and also track Earth satellites, lunar exploration satellites and deep space probes, said Hong Xiaoyu, head of the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory reports China Today.
China's Very Long Baseline Interferometry system is made up of four telescopes in the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Kunming, Urumqi, respectively, as well as a data center in Shanghai. China built the first radio telescopes in north-west China’s Qinghai province, which is affiliated to the Purple Mountain Observatory under the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1987. 
The first radio antenna used to identify astronomical radio sources was built by American radio engineer Karl Guthe Jansky, an engineer with Bell Telephone Laboratories, in the early 1930s.

Space Race: Commercial Era Underway!


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Deep Space Habitat Taking Shape for L2

The space agency is weighing a proposal to build a “gateway spacecraft” that would hang in space about 277,000 miles from the Earth and 38,000 miles past the moon -- more than a quarter million miles further into space than the orbit of the International Space Station.

The Deep Space Habitat project is an attempt to work out optimum size of capsule, equipment and resources to send outside of the Earth-Moon system and into deep space and support a human crew of four.
L2 is probable location
The mission would most likely be the second Lagrangian point of the Earth-Moon system or L2. Initial concept missions for the structure to cope with cover a sixty-day jaunt into the inky blackness, and a much-longer 500-day variant.
“[Placing a spacecraft at the Earth-Moon Lagrange point beyond the moon as a test area for human access to deep space is the best near-term option to develop required flight experience and mitigate risk," concluded a recent NASA report.
The new outpost -- which may be built from parts leftover from the construction of the ISS and as well as Russian and Italian hardware -- would be an ideal first mission for the heavy lift spacecraft dubbed Space Launch System (SLS) that is being developed at NASA.

Artist concept of L2 station
With the push for exploration Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) increasing, a proposed habitat for human exploration outside the confines of Earth’s immediate space is taking shape as NASA presses forward with the development of its new Deep Space Habitat (DSH) – a module-based habitation facility that will be used as part of manned exploration missions to the moon, asteroids, and eventually Mars wrote Chris Gebhardt for NASA Spaceflight in the spring of 2012.
Colin Lecher, writing for Popular Science, notes Engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center and experts Johnson Space Center in Houston (led by NASA astronaut Alvin Drew) are tinkering with the spaceship mockup, deciding the right size, necessary equipment, and everything else that's going to make a mission.
The team's also planning what kind of toys will be sent along and built in. Some of it's the sort of thing you might expect from a trip like this--life support systems, food storage, etc.--but other parts of it are especially interesting. One of the best is a 3-D printer, which would allow astronauts to create any tools they need right on the spot. On the lower-tech side, there's also greenhouse for astronauts to grow their own and food, and a barrier of water on the outside that could be used to shield explorers from cosmic rays, notes Lecher.

Apollo 11 lunar astronaut Buzz Aldrin has long urged NASA to set up a similar "floating launching pad" at a different balance point between Earth and the Moon, called EML-1 or L1, and he told io9 that platforms at L1 or L2, plus fueling depots for spaceships, would serve as appropriate "intermediate steps" for voyages to Mars and other worlds.
Bigelow Aerospace lunar habitat
Aldrin's vision calls for NASA to lead in the construction of the infrastructure needed for space transport beyond Earth orbit, while leaving the development of facilities on the Moon's surface to commercial ventures. A human-tended station at EML-1 or EML-2 could help direct the robotic construction of habitats and factories on the moon, to be occupied at a later time by humans.

Aldrin touted Phobos to President Obama
The eventual goal would be to have a human-tended station on the Martian moon Phobos, directing robots to build facilities for permanent residents on the Red Planet. And then? "We make a commitment to permanence," Aldrin explained. "It's like the Pilgrims on the Mayflower." It is a bold vision with multiple civil and commercial sector destinations.

This Week @NASA: Recap of October 27

This Week @NASA provides an overview of significant events relating to space exploration, flights in progress, space technology in development, potential agency-private partnerships, and STEM-education. The highlights video is 11-minutes.

Hurricane Sandy Slows Work on Artares Rocket at Wallops Island, Virginia by Days

Artist depiction of Antares on Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport launch pad.
Threats of high winds and flooding from Hurricane Sandy are forcing Orbital Sciences Corp. to suspend tests of its Antares rocket and secure facilities at a coastal launch site in Virginia, a spokesperson said Friday, October 26, 2012 reports Spaceflight Now.
According to Barron Beneski, an Orbital spokesperson, workers at the coastal launch site are sealing doors on the Antares horizontal integration facility and closing access doors, disconnecting propellant lines, and safing systems on the rocket's first stage on launch pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island. The Antares first stage, designed by Yuzhnoye and built by Yuzhmash in Ukraine, will remain on the launch pad, Beneski said Friday.

“So the days we spend doing that and then restoring our operations are days we’re not making progress toward the launch. Unfortunately, this is something we just need to deal with,” he said as reported by DelmarvaNow.

After the hurricane passes, workers will resume Antares testing ahead of a 30-second firing of the first stage's two AJ26 engines. Several propellant loading, or cold flow, tests are planned before the hotfire to demonstrate the launch pad's fueling systems and rehearse countdown procedures.

Orbital plans to complete three major milestones in the next several months — an on-pad hot-fire test of the first stage this month, followed by the first flight of a fully operational Antares rocket in December and finally a demonstration mission to the International Space Station early next year.

Those will be followed by the commencement of cargo delivery missions to the space station in the spring of 2013 under a NASA Commercial Resupply Services agreement. Orbital in 2008 was awarded a $1.9 billion contract for eight flights to take cargo to the space station.

It is anticipated that during one of the cargo missions over the next two years, NASA will fit the Cygnus spacecraft with "space brakes" or the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) to seek to establish a controlled re-entry of cargo payload - now limited only to the SpaceX Dragon.

NASA Langley systems engineer Amanda Cutright explains the new High Energy Atmospheric Re-Entry Test (HEART)  now in development at the NASA Langley Research Center and being tested at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. It is anticipated that Orbital Sciences Corporation will test the new system with Cygnus in 2015.

China launches 16th Beidou-2 satellite

The latest satellite in China's Beidou-2 (Compass) navigation system has been launched in Xichang. The system is expected to start providing positioning and navigation services for China and neighboring areas by the end of this year similar to the mature American GPS, the other developing European Galileo, the Russian GLONASS and the more regional Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS)systems.
Guo Shuren, Research Fellow, China Satellite Navigation System, said, "Once we've completed the second stage of the Beidou system which will provide services to the Asia-Pacific Region, we plan to make the Beidou a global satellite positioning and navigation system with more than 30 orbiters by the end of 2020."

The launch of the latest satellite for the Beidou-2 system is a remarkable milestone in the development of China's independent satellite navigation. And once the system is fully established by 2020, it will play a major role in the country's economic development and national security, Xinhua, and SpaceflightNow.

Branson: Leap from space Virgin-style?

Sir Richard Branson Credit: Bronson Blog
Virgin Galactic boss Sir Richard Branson hinted in a blog post October 18, 2012 that his company could attempt to break the Austrian's Felix Baumgartner near-space jump record recently set in Roswell, New Mexico.  
Writing on his blog, Sir Richard said that he was approached by someone in 2005 who wanted to jump from 400,000ft, saying: "Such a record is theoretically possible. However, the timing wasn't right."
SpaceShipTwo (SS2)
Sir Richard, whose company Virgin Galactic is attempting to become the first to send commercial flights to space, added: "Nevertheless, the technology of space travel and exploration is moving forwards every day. Who knows, the next record leap could one day be from Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo."
"Haven't had a challenge myself for a while. Could be fun for Virgin to give Red Bull a run for their money," Branson noted.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Baumgartner reponded to the Branson blog post saying: "It sounds like kind of a joke because it looks like he wants to use our positive momentum and gain publicity on his side and that is kind of lame." He said that the idea of someone leaping from 400,000ft was "completely insane".

The first commercial flight of SpaceShipTwo, with Virgin founder and chief executive Richard Branson and his family aboard, is expected in December 2013, said Christine Anderson, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, reports Space News.

ISS Spacewalk Planned for Nov. 1, 2012

The six-member International Space Station crew will have a busy schedule in the coming days.
On Sunday, October 28, 2012, the privately owned Dragon cargo ship, which arrived at the station on Oct. 10, is due to depart. The Space Exploration Technologies’ freighter, making the first of 12 supply runs under a $1.6 billion NASA contract, will be returning with more than one ton (907 kg) of science experiments and gear from the orbital outpost, the first big load of cargo to come back to Earth since the space shuttles stopped flying more than a year ago.
NASA-TV will provide live coverage of the private spacecraft departure on Sunday, October, 28, 2012 at 7:00 AM. The departure time from ISS is set for 9:26 AM EDT. Splashdown in the Pacific off the coast of California is expected at about 3:20 pm EDT. 
The astronauts and cosmonauts also are preparing for the arrival of a Russian cargo ship Progress 49P (Progress M-17M)  on Wednesday, October 31, 2012  and a spacewalk the following day, Thursday, November 1, 2012 by space station commander and NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. The two will repair a leak in a station cooling system.

Science Aboard the Space Station

NASA Public Affairs Officer Amiko Kauderer talks with Tara Rutley, Associate Program Scientist for International Space Station, about some of the science experiments performed by the Expedition 33 crew members aboard the station throughout the week.
For more than a decade, the space station has provided hands-on educational opportunities that encourage students to go beyond passive learning, engaging them as interactive participants. The recently published, Inspiring the Next Generation: International Space Station Education Opportunities and Accomplishments, 2000-2012, compiles these efforts to share with the public, as noted by Rutley.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Curiosity laser keeps firing! #Phew-Phew!

Curiosity uses its ChemCam laser to explore a tiny cluster of rocks nicknamed 'Stonehenge'. The ChemCam aboard the rover has already done about 10,000 shots with its laser to study their chemical composition of its targets. Most recently, a small cluster of rocks (that resembles famous rock structure in England) has been fired upon 9 times.

Paintballs may deflect an incoming asteroid

MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics graduate student Sung Wook Paek thinks he can alter the collision course of an incoming asteroid by splattering it with brightly colored paint. The Sun's photons, bouncing off the now reflective surface will, slowly change the trajectory.

Sung Wook Paek says if timed just right, pellets full of paint powder, launched in two rounds from a spacecraft at relatively close distance, would cover the front and back of an asteroid, more than doubling its reflectivity, or albedo. The initial force from the pellets would bump an asteroid off course; over time, the sun’s photons would deflect the asteroid even more. More details from MIT News.

Paek’s paper detailing this unconventional strategy won the 2012 Move an Asteroid Technical Paper Competition, sponsored by the United Nations’ Space Generation Advisory Council, which solicits creative solutions to space-related problems from students and young professionals. Paek presented his paper this month at the International Astronautical Congress in Naples, Italy.

Earth's magnetic field is weakening, why?

Earth's magnetic field is weakening and scientists are trying to understand why.

Gas Leak Halts South Korea Countdown

Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1
South Korea's highly anticipated Naro-1 space rocket launch, originally scheduled for today, has been delayed at least 3-days, after officials discovered a gas leak in the Russian-made first stage rocket, according to Arirang.
The call to abandon the launch from the Naro Space Center in Goheung, about 485 km (301 miles) south of Seoul, came five hours before scheduled liftoff, Reuters reported. The fuel injection repair of the first stage will require the rocket to be removed from the launch pad and returned to the horizontal integration facility requiring at least three days.
"If the problem is serious, we may not be able to launch in the current window," Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) President Kim Seung-jo said. South Korea has set a launch window of Oct. 26 to 31. The officials indicated a new window may have to be set.
South Korean officials said Russian engineers had found a leak in the sealing while injecting helium gas into the first-stage booster. The second stage South Korean-made booster and it has been an issue in two previous unsuccessful flights by the KSLV-1 rocket.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

South Korea Rocket Launch Campaign in Final Hours at the Naro Space Center

South Korea found no issues that might force it to delay its scheduled launch of a space rocket in its final rehearsal Thursday, launch organizers told YonhapNews. The analysis will be reported early Friday to the Launch Preparation Committee, which will then decide whether to go ahead with the scheduled launch of the KSLV-1, also known as Naro-1.
Engineers moved the rocket from an assembly hangar to the launch pad Wednesday, lifted the 108-foot booster vertical and completed the dress rehersal Thursday. The launch window is set Friday, October 26, 2012 between 2:30-6:00 a.m. EDT, according to SpaceflightNow. The rocket will boost a small satellite.
Success on Friday would also put Seoul one up over Pyongyang. In April, North Korea fired what it claims was a multi-stage rocket carrying a satellite as part of celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the nation, reports The Telegraph (UK). Success would also signal a wider space competition in Asia among China, India, Japan and emerging South Korea.

'Orbiting space hotel within 10-years'

RT's Tom Barton interviews Eric Anderson, a leading US space entrepreneur, on the prospects of space tourism in the near future.

Saturn’s ‘Great Springtime Storm' Blasted Planet's Stratosphere With Extreme Heat

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has tracked the aftermath of a rare massive storm on Saturn. Data reveal record-setting disturbances in the planet's upper atmosphere long after the visible signs of the storm abated, in addition to an indication the storm was more forceful than scientists previously thought.
Data from Cassini's composite infrared spectrometer (CIRS) instrument revealed the storm's powerful discharge sent the temperature in Saturn's stratosphere soaring 150 degrees Fahrenheit (83 kelvins) above normal. At the same time, researchers at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., detected a huge increase in the amount of ethylene gas, the origin of which is a mystery. Ethylene, an odorless, colorless gas, isn't typically observed on Saturn. On Earth, it is created by natural and man-made sources.  More from ESA Space Science.

New Crewmates Welcomed Aboard Station

Three new crew members joined their Expedition 33 crewmates after the hatches between the International Space Station and the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft opened at 11:08 a.m.EDT Thursday, October 25, 2012. Flight Engineers Kevin Ford, Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin join Commander Suni Williams and Flight Engineers Aki Hoshide and Yuri Malenchenko who've been residing at the orbital laboratory since July 17, 2012.

Soyuz Arrives @International Space Station

Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying two cosmonauts and an astronaut successfully docked Thursday, October 25, 2012, 8:29 AM EDT with the International Space Station after a two-day voyage from Kazakhstan. The arrival of NASA astronaut Kevin Ford and Russians Oleg Novitsky and Yevgeny Tarelkin  brings the crew at the orbiting outpost to six (AP).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Japan Seeks Human Spacecraft by 2022

The Japanese space agency is pushing for a domestic human spaceflight capability, proposing modifications to the country's International Space Station cargo delivery system to carry astronauts into orbit by 2022. Japan is also eyeing point-to-point suborbital transportation over the longer haul.

JAXA is considering two different versions of the capsule, which would have a similar internal volume to SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. The 15,400-pound (6,985 kg) variant employs parachutes, while the 19,800-pound (8,981 kg) model uses a more maneuverable parafoil for greater landing accuracy to within a 1.9-mile (3 kilometers) radius, notes

Germany To Push 2019 Moon Lander

DLR's proposed Moonlander with lander and rover. Credit: DLR  concept
A German-led European lunar lander and rover mission could be designed, built, launched and operated for six months on the lunar surface for 500 million euros ($650 million), according to the mission’s presumptive prime contractor, Astrium GmbH, said Oct. 23, 2012, according to Space News.
Under a two-year contract to the European Space Agency (ESA) that ends in mid-November, an Astrium-led six-nation team has concluded Europe could place an 808-kilogram lander/rover package on the surface of the Moon in 2019 (Video animation).
Moonlander would arrive at the lunar south pole and would demonstrate technologies deemed useful for future exploration missions as well as a suite of experiments, yet to be defined, at a region of the Moon that remains poorly understood 40 years after the last of the U.S. Apollo astronauts quit the Moon’s surface, according to the report.
Program officials said the estimated 500-million-euro budget includes some 75 million euros in the cost of launching Moonlander aboard a Europeanized Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Guiana Space Center.  The program makes a significant contribution to positioning Germany as a systems leader for future European moon landing missions. The Germans, however, seek greater European shared risk.

What began as a project 98 percent backed by Germany and 2 percent by Portugal — not an auspicious beginning for an ESA mission — has since broadened to a six-nation effort in which Germany has a 71 percent financial stake. The Germans want other Europeans to buy-down their stake to under 60%.  More from the BBC and Spaceflight Now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Brazil Seeks Launch of Cyclone-4 in 2014

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff said that her country is working with Ukraine in the Alcantara Cyclone Space (ACS) project in order to launch the first rocket from Alcantara, on the Brazilian coast in 2014, using the Cyclone-4, developed in Ukraine, according to a presidential release.
The Cyclone-4 rocket is the latest, most powerful version of Cyclone launchers, developed by Yuzhnoye State Design Office and manufactured by Yuzhymash State Enterprise in Ukraine. The rocket can launch satellites (either single or cluster) with a total mass of up to 5,300 Kg to the equatorial low earth orbit (LEO) or a 1,600 Kg satellite to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
Dilma Rousseff
President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich and Rousseff agreed to strengthen space cooperation and advance the bilaterial space program Yanukovich said that Brazil is taking the necessary actions to make the program more dynamic and assure the Cyclone-4 launching in 2014.

Both countries are partners in the binational company ACS, established to implement the use of the Cyclone-4 rocket launcher in the base Alcantara, in MaraƱao. The ACS aims to implement an ambitious joint program to promote the marketing of satellite launch service from Alcantara.

The Brazilian space program was transferred from military to civilian control under the Brazilian Space Agency in 1994.

What It's Like to Ride Russia's Soyuz

Take a tour inside the Russian Soyuz, the vehicle which takes the expedition crews back & forth to the International Space Station. Astronaut Mike Fincke, a veteran of the Soyuz and shuttle, shows spokesman Rob Navias what its like inside the Soyuz.

Soyuz TMA-06 Makes Orbit on Way to ISS for Busy Week Ahead of Coming and Going

The Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft successfully boosted to space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying Kevin Ford of the U.S. and Russia’s Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin of Russia. The trio will have a six month stay in low-earth orbit at the International Space Station.

On Thursday, October 25, 2012, the new trio will join Commander Suni Williams and Flight Engineers Aki Hoshide and Yuri Malenchenko who've been residing at the orbital laboratory since July 17, 2012. On Thursday (Nov. 1, 2012), Williams and Hoshide will venture outside the space station in a spacewalk to fix an ammonia leak in the orbiting laboratory's cooling system. The spacewalk will be covered live on NASA-TV.

On Sunday (Oct. 28, 2012), a robotic Dragon space capsule built by SpaceX will depart the space station to wrap up the debut cargo delivery flight and splash down in the Pacific Ocean. Days later, on Wednesday (Oct. 31, 2012), an unmanned Russian Progress spacecraft will launch and dock at the space station within six hours to deliver tons of more cargo.

Monday, October 22, 2012

'Tron' Inspired ISS Video by Christoph Malin

An Austrian video artist and photographer has made an incredible video by stacking images taken by the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to create fantastic patterns. Christoph Malin has admitted to taking his inspiration for the piece from the cult 1982 sci-fi film 'Tron.'

Because the ISS travels at incredible speeds (about 4.7 miles per second) exposure times are kept as short as possible, and highly sensitive settings have to be used if anything visible is to be captured. Malin said he was inspired by the light cycle races in 'Tron' and the strange solar wind ships in the movie. And the images certainly have a trippy, almost psychedelic feel to them as they move around the earth in slow motion.

Malin says the ISS is similar in many ways to one of the solar ships in the film, as it is constantly rotating around the globe, reports The Daily Mail.

Blue Origin Achives Milestones in Spaceflight

The secretive Blue Origin spaceflight company, owned by founder Jeff Bezos, successfully tested its emergency rocket escape system, a capsule-based pad abort concept, for a new private spaceship in October 2012.

NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partner Blue Origin conducted a successful pad escape test Friday at the company's West Texas launch site, firing its pusher-escape motor and launching a full-scale suborbital crew capsule from a simulated propulsion module.

The suborbital crew capsule traveled to an altitude of 2,307 feet (703 meters) during the flight test before descending safely by parachute to a soft landing 1,630 feet (497 meters) away.

The pusher escape system was designed and developed by Blue Origin to allow crew escape in the event of an emergency during any phase of ascent for its suborbital New Shepard system. As part of an incremental development program, the results of this test will shape the design of the escape system for the company's orbital biconic-shaped Space Vehicle. The system is expected to enable full reusability of the launch vehicle, which is different from NASA's previous launch escape systems that would pull a spacecraft away from its rocket before reaching orbit.

Read more here:

Read more here:

Blue Origin completed a systems requirement review of the proposed spacecraft. The test was designed to show that the spacecraft can meet safety and mission requirement for low-Earth orbit missions. Critics of the program have warned that NASA must ensure strict safety measures during development of commercial spacecraft given the inherent danger of manned spaceflight.
NASA said Blue Origin (Kent, Wash.) also fired the thrust chamber assembly on its 100,000-pound thrust BE-3 liquid oxygen-hydrogen rocket engine. The reusable booster is designed to launch into orbit a biconic-shaped spacecraft currently under development. The successful test took place in early October 2012 on a test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

S Korean Rocket Seeks Success on 3rd Try

South Korea plans to go ahead with the scheduled launch of its, Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1), space rocket this Friday, October 26, 2012, at least for now, though weather conditions and other factors may prompt last-minute changes. 

 The launch preparations committee had designated October 26 through October 31, 2012 as possible launch dates with October. 26 named the provisional launch date for what is South Korea's third attempt to send a rocket into space following attempts in August 2009 and June 2010 ended in failure. 

 The rocket, also known as Naro-1, is the country's first locally assembled space rocket with its first-stage thruster built by Russia's Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, and the rest of the rocket and its payload satellite built by a South Korean team led by the Korea Aerospace Research institute (KARI).

SpaceX CRS-1 Mission Continues ...

Two weeks after launch, the SpaceX CRS-1 mission to the International Space Station is still underway. On October 10th, the Dragon spacecraft berthed with the space station and delivered about 1,000 pounds of supplies to the station's Expedition 33 crew. 

Dragon is scheduled to return to earth on October 28, 2012 loaded with scientific materials, including results from human research, biotechnology and education experiments, as well as space station hardware.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Soyuz Rolled to Baikonur Launch Pad

The Soyuz rocket and TMA-06 capsule that'll send a NASA astronaut and his two Russian crewmates to the International Space Station is rolled out to its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Launch is scheduled for Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at  6:51 a.m. EDT. The launch may be viewed LIVE on NASA-TV .

Russia Proposing Asteroid Impact Defense

The Russian federal space agency Roscosmos plans a robotic mission to the asteroid Apophis for the purpose of placing a tracking radio beacon, which will help track the celestial body and assess the risks it poses.
Apophis, named after the Ancient Egyptian evil god, archenemy of the sun god Ra, will come close to the Earth in 2029. The close approach however may result in an unpredictable gravitational pull on Apophis, which would change its course and pose a danger on Friday, April 13, 2036, when it comes back.
Asteroid mission
"There are three large asteroids, including Apophis, whose orbits cross the Earth's orbit and which could hit the Earth in the next several decades," Russian Energia chief Vitaly Lopota told the Russian state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta recently noting that the aerospace corporation has the capability to build a 70-ton rocket to destroy them.
"I can presume that such an operation will involve space tows with nuclear- or solar-powered engines that will be able to deliver the appropriate means and energy capable of changing the asteroid's orbit with the help of electric propulsion engines,"  Lopota said.
RD-171 cluster
"For example, a launch vehicle with a payload of 65-75 tonnes intended for space exploration could be built using RD-171 engines within 3-5 years," he said. Today these engines serve to power Zenit-3SL launch vehicles, which are used as part of the Sea Launch and Land Launch projects.
"RD-171 engines are produced by Energomash. We call them "tsar engines" because they can determine the competitiveness of our launch vehicles in the coming decades. No other country has similar engines," Lopota said.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Soyuz TMA-06 Assembled at Baikonur Cosmodrome for Tuesday Launch

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft was mated to its booster rocket on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. The Soyuz will launch Expedition 33/34 Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy, NASA Flight Engineer Kevin Ford and Russian Flight Engineer Evgeny Tarelkin on Oct. 23, with docking to the International Space Station on Oct. 25, 2012.
The trio will spend five months on the laboratory, joining station Commander Sunita Williams, Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Russian Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko, who have been in orbit since mid-July, 2012 (AP).

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mars Rover Curiosity Eats Dirt

The Curiosity Rover on Mars began ingesting dirt into its chassis this week. The dirt will be examined using the rover's CheMin system.

NASA's Curiosity rover delivers its first soil sample to its chemistry and mineralogy instrument.

ESA CHEOPS: CHaracterizing ExoPlanets Satellite to Launch in 2017

Studying planets around other stars will be the focus of the new small Science Programme mission, Cheops, ESA announced today (October 19, 2012). Cheops launch is expected in 2017.

Cheops – for CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite – will target nearby, bright stars already known to have planets orbiting around them. Through high-precision monitoring of the star’s brightness, scientists will search for the telltale signs of a ‘transit’ as a planet passes briefly across its face.

In turn, this will allow an accurate measurement of the radius of the planet. For those planets with a known mass, the density will be revealed, providing an indication of the internal structure. These key parameters will help scientists to understand the formation of planets from a few times the mass of the Earth – ‘super-Earths’ – up to Neptune-sized worlds. Cheops will also identify planets with significant atmospheres and constrain the migration of planets during the formation and evolution of their parent systems. More from ESA.

Orbital Sciences Cargo Flights from Virginia

NASA Public Affairs Officer Josh Byerly talks with Bruce Manners, a project executive for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), about Orbital Sciences Corporation's work to provide cargo capability to the International Space Station.
Hot fire test of Antares next month
Orbital is developing and qualifying a new launch vehicle called Antares to enable lower-cost COTS launches and the Cygnus cargo module. Antares will be launching from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia - the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority. Orbital plans to launch Antares on its first test flight by the end of this year.
Orbital also will launch Cygnus atop an Antares rocket in 2013 for its first demonstration flight to the station. Cygnus is designed to deliver cargo to the station then return to Earth filled with trash for destructive re-entry. More from SpaceflightNow and SpaceNews.

Orionid meteor shower Oct. 20-21, 2012

Soon, Earth will pass through a stream of debris from Halley's Comet, source of the annual Orionid meteor shower. Forecasters expect 25 meteors per hour when the shower peaks on Oct. 21, 2012. The shower should be at its peak the night of Saturday, Oct. 20, until just before dawn on Oct. 21. This year, the moon will be setting at about midnight, which will keep the sky darkened enough that -- barring cloud cover -- an observer should be able to see up to 15 meteors per hour.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Soyuz TMA-06 Crew Prepares for Oct. 23 Launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome

The Soyuz TMA-06 crew of Oleg Novitskiy, Roscosmos; Evgeny Tarelkin, Roscosmos; and, Kevin A. Ford, NASA, are making final preperations at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for their launch on October 23, 2012 to the International Space Station.  The trio will be a part of the International Space Station increments 33 and 34 spending about five months in orbit. The three will return to Earth in March 2013.  

Global collaboration in science discussed ...

The World We Dream-- Lisa Randall, Professor of Physics, Harvard University; Ron Garan, NASA Astronaut discuss global collaboration and cooperation in seeking knowledge and the exploration of space in the foregoing 20-minute talk.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Zuber: MoonKam and the Next Generation

The World We Dream-- Maria Zuber, Professor of Geophysics, MIT. Putting a man on the moon was once simply a dream. What are some of today's most innovative and thought provoking visions for our future?

Moon Made By Colossal Collision With Earth?

The moon may be a chip off the old block after all and the lingering problem in explaining the genesis of the moon appears to have been solved, according to various reports today from Scientific American, Nature, Ars Technica, Harvard Gazette, New Scientist, and,

Only 25.4 Trillion Miles Away, Earth-Sized Planet Found at Alpha Centauri B

European researchers have detected a planet -- just slightly more massive than Earth -- orbiting very close to Alpha Centauri B, a sun-like star only 4.3 light-years (about 25.4 trillion miles) from our Sun. Orbiting once every 3.2 days, the planet known as Alpha Centauri Bb is not in the habitable zone however. The surface temperature is estimated to be 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. David Brodie explains in the above video for

The planet adds to the growing number of extrasolar planets frequently being found around other stars throughout the Milky Way.
Anan imaginary journey from Earth to the Alpha Centauri system is animated in the foregoing video. Departing the Solar System, one sees the familiar constellation figures including the Southern Cross (Crux) and the bright stars Alpha and Beta Centauri. In the approach Alpha Centauri a faint red star is passed. The star is Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth and the faintest component of a triple star system. The final part shows the bright double star Alpha Centauri A and B with the Sun visible in the background.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NASA's Cassini Celebrates 15 Years of Planetary Exploration at Saturn

The NASA exploration spacecraft Cassini has accomplished a lot in the 15 years since its launch on October 15, 1997.

Jumping into a new business era in space?

CNN's Brian Todd looks at the future role for private companies is in high-altitude and space exploration. Meanwhile, University of Tennessee Professor Glenn H. Reynolds had an interesting OpEd in USA Today raising the commercial sector going into space.

NASA's sounding rockets provide a cheaper option to researchers looking to get telescopes and other research projects into space.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Rockoon May Get Look to Break the New Felix Baumgarner Record in Near-Future

"Project FarSide" was a series of six low-cost, all-solid-fuel, four-stage, balloon-launched sounding rockets, each launched from a carrier 200 foot (62 m) diameter balloon, and built and used in 1957. When each balloon reached its maximum altitude of about 100,000 feet (30,480 m), the rockets fired through the balloon. They became known as rockoons. For those now considering ways to break the Felix Baumgarter new world records, the rockoon may be the means to the end.

Planet PH1 Shinning On with Four Suns!

An international team of amateur and professional astronomers has discovered a planet whose skies are lit up by four suns - the first reported case of such a phenomenon - posted on the Arxiv pre-print server and announced Monday, October 15, 2012
The planet, located about 5000 light years from Earth, has been dubbed PH1 in honor of Planet Hunters, a program led by Yale University in the United States which enlists volunteers to look for signs of new planets, reports the BBC, io9 and NASA JPL/CIT.
PH1 is orbiting two suns, and in turn is orbited by a second distant pair of stars. Only six planets are known to orbit two stars, researchers say, and none of those are orbited by other distant stars. A gas giant, PH1 has a radius about 6.2 times that of Earth, making it a bit bigger than Neptune. It orbits a pair of eclipsing stars that are 1.5 and 0.41 times the mass of the sun roughly every 138 days.
The discovery was made by volunteers using the website along with a team from UK and US institutes; follow-up observations were made with the Keck Observatory after the review of the Kepler spacecraft data.

Yeah we all shine on like the moon, and the stars, and the sun [and PH1]. -John Lennon

Space-Based Human Civilization Coming?

New research suggests the moon is covered in soil containing a water substructure which may be a step in the right direction for colonization. More from National Geographic News and Nature Geoscience.

China Orbits Two Technology Satellites

Two Chinese satellites, Practice-9 A and Practice-9 B, launched from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in China's northern Shanxi Province, were boosted by a Long March-2C carrier rocket and sent into a predetermined orbit Sunday, October 14, 2012, reports China Daily.

The mission is to test high precision and high stability control systems, efficient power supply and advanced thermal control technology. This series of satellites has previously been used with a variety of configurations and missions for scientific research and technological experiments.

China is currently carrying out an ambitious space program which included missions to Moon, building of its space station as well as its own global positioning system. Since last year China has started a program to launch 100 rockets and 100 satellites by 2015 and has been making 20 launch missions a year to accomplish it.

Proton-BreezeM Boost IntelSat to Geo Orbit

Two months after its failed launch, Russia launched a Proton-M carrier rocket, topped with a Breeze-M upper stage, carried an American telecommunications satellite to geostationary, Roscomos indicated. The Proton rocket, carrying the Intelsat-23, lasted from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan.

Built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., Intelsat 23 is designed for a lifetime of more than 18 years, according to Intelsat of Luxembourg, the world's largest communications satellite operator. Another ILS Proton mission is set for Nov. 20 with the EchoStar 16 satellite to serve DISH network television customers in the United States.

Dramatic Footage from Baumgartner's Suit

The video feed of Felix Baumgartner's record setting jump from the edge of space was viewed by more than seven million people on YouTube alone. The dramatic footage above taken from a camera mounted on Felix Baumgartner's spacesuit shows the terrifying moments he span out of control from the over 24-mile altitude jump and through the Mach 1.2 free-fall.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Baumgartner Should Win the Harmon Trophy

Harmon Trophy
The 2012 Harmon International Trophy for Aeronautics should go to Felix Baumgarter. His aeronaut skills, and those of the Red Bull Stratos Team, the record setting jump 24-miles from a balloon over the skies of New Mexico and the contribution to fuure space aeronautics, have been proven to be adept.
The National Aeronautic Association would be wise to recognize the dedicated contribution made by Baumgartner "to the advancement of the art, sport and science of aviation in the United States" and internationally. More people around the globe most likely watched the "Near the Edge of Space" jump live than any ballon event in human history - over 8-million on YouTube alone.
Historically, the President of the United States has presented the Harmon International Trophy at White House ceremonies. Baumgartner's accomplishment should be such an auspicious occasion to fete the future of commercial space and to inspire future aeronauts.

Felix Baumgartner Breaks Multiple World Records with Supersonic Leap into History

Stratonaut Feilx Baumgartner sets three new world records with jump
Stratonaut Feilx Baumgartner landed in eastern New Mexico desert minutes after jumping from 28,000 feet, or 24 miles and into the history books. The stratosphere balloon flight was an manned altitute record, the jump was a new altitude and speed record free-fall jump from a balloon.

At a news conference, Brian Utley of the International Federation of Sports Aviation says Baumgartner reached a maximum speed of 1,342 km/h (833.9 mph) during his jump Sunday over the New Mexico desert. That amounts to Mach 1.24, which is faster than the speed of sound. No one has ever reached that speed wearing only a high-tech suit and significantly fatser than the previous record holder and Bumgartner mentor Joe Kittinger.

Baumgartner's feat came on the 65th anniversary of legendary pilot Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier.

Baumgartner was in free fall for 4 minutes, 19 seconds, just 17 seconds shy of his mentor Joseph Kittinger's 4 minutes, 36 second record from 1960.

"Let me tell you - when I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble. You don't think about breaking records anymore, you don't think about gaining scientific data - the only thing that you want is to come back alive," he said afterwards at a media conference.

None of the new marks set by Baumgartner can be classed as "official" until approved by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), notes the BBC.
When asked what he would do next, Baumgartner said he'd like to be sitting in his mentor's chair. "Honestly I want to inspire the next generation," he said. "I would love if there was a young guy sitting next to me asking what my advice is, wanting to break my record."